Scientific name: Erythroxylum Coca
Origin: Highland jungle (Amazon Rainforest)
The coca leaf is found in the eastern side of the Andes (at the border of the Amazon Rainforest) of Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia. It is cultivated in mountainous and humid regions between 300 and 1,500 meters above sea level (1,000 and 5,000 feet).
It is a bush which grows up to 1.5 m (5 feet) tall, with dark green leaves measuring 8 to 10 cm (3 to 4 inches) in length. They are oval and pointed on both ends, similar to a laurel. It has small white flower and ovoid red fruit.
The coca leaf is rich in minerals and vitamins, with high levels of nitrogen, calcium and carotene.
For natives in the area, the coca leaf was the only substantial source of calcium before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors who brought cows and hens (milk and eggs) from Europe.
Analysis of Duke, Aulik and Plowman, Botanical Museum Leaflets 24 (6) – Harvard University – 1975:
|COMPOSITION||g / 100 g|
|MINERALS||mg / 100 g|
|VITAMINS||mg / 100 g|
|Vitamin B1 (thiamin)||0.73|
|Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)||0.88|
|MINERALS||mg / 100 g|
The coca leaves contains 14 natural alkaloids:
|Cocaine||Anesthetic and pain killer|
|Egnonine||Metabolizes fats and glucose, carbohydrates, narrows blood vessels|
|Atropine||Anesthetic which produces dryness in the respiratory system|
|Pectin||Absorbent and antidiarrheal, together with vitamin E it regulates the production of melanin for the skin|
|Papain||A type of ferment which accelerates digestion|
|Higrine||Stimulates the salivary glands when there is an oxygen deficiency in the environment|
|Globulin||Regulates the lack of oxygen, improves blood circulation, prevents altitude sickness|
|Pyridin||Accelerates the formation and functioning of the brain, improves blood flow of the pituitary and the glands, helping the body to function better|
|Quinoline||Stops cavities from forming, joins phosphorus and calcium|
|Cocamine||Anesthetic which, together with quinolone, helps the cocaine to improves anesthetic and pain-relieving properties|
|Inulin||Refreshes and improves liver functioning, bile secretion and gallbladder accumulation|
|Benzoin||Improves the formation of muscular cells and prevents food petrification (useful for gastritis and ulcers)|
|Reserpine||Regulates blood pressure during hiccups and hypertension, and helps with the formation of bone cells|
Note: The coca leaf contains the cocaine alkaloid, but don’t worry, the amount contained in a leaf is so minute that one would theoretically need to drink dozens of liters of coca tea or to chew many kilos of leaves in less than 1 hour to feel the effects, almost impossible.
Vestiges of coca use have been found as early as 3,000 bc in the Peruvian coast. “Coca” is the name that the Andean Indians gave this plant. It is very common in the Andean inhabitants. The chew the leaves (They call it chacchar or cullicar) to help with thirst, soothe hunger and tiredness.
In 1859 Albert Niemann isolated its principal component and called it “cocaine”. The coca leaf became famous in Europe from an essay by Paolo Mantegazza.
In 1863 the industrialization of the coca leave was begun in France with Mariani wines. In 1884 Sigmund Freud promoted its use and considered it as “the third scourge”. In 1885, the American firm “Parke Davis & Company” distributed it in inhalers and cigarettes.
In 1886 “Coca Cola” was born, offered as a medicinal tonic. Then, important European laboratories commercialized in in a great variety of forms such as menthol pills, cocaine and borax for the throat that were given even to babies.
The Andean people chew dried leaves with a little piece of “llipt’a” (it looks like a small pebble) made of the ashes of plants like quinoa or kiwicha, allowing the effects of the alkaloids to be enhanced.
After several minutes, an anesthetic effect is felt in the mouth. The leaves are not eaten, but rather spit out after 30 minutes.
Coca tea, or “mate de coca” is recommended for treating altitude sickness and is offered in all Andean hotels and restaurants.
Today one can find many different coca products, including candy, chocolate, drinks, etc.